ARE the Newcastle Knights willing to make a winger their highest-paid player?
That is the question Newcastle officials may have to ponder if reports are accurate that Japanese rugby clubs are already circling Fijian flyer Akuila Uate.
Uate, off contract at the end of this season, will probably never have a better opportunity to cash in on his remarkable ability to find the try line.
At 25, he is in the prime of his career after establishing himself as one of rugby league’s most potent strike weapons, scoring 70 four-pointers in his 90 NRL games and representing both NSW and Australia.
Only one player in the NRL, Canterbury dynamo Ben Barba, has crossed the stripe more often than Uate over the past three seasons.
Uate’s occasional fumbles and defensive mishaps were highlighted during an unhappy Origin campaign last year that led to him being dropped from the series decider.
But few players carry the ball more destructively and it seems fair to assume there would be plenty of nervous rugby union wingers around should Uate decide to emulate the likes of Wendell Sailor, Lote Tuqiri, Mat Rogers, Timana Tahu and Cooper Vuna by switching codes.
The money apparently available playing club rugby in Japan or France is mind-boggling, as Sonny Bill Williams, Willie Mason and Craig Wing would no doubt testify.
There was speculation on the weekend that Uate could command $800,000 a year in Japan.
Even with an increased salary cap of $5.8million, it is hard to imagine Newcastle or any other NRL club matching that.
But there are other bargaining chips that Newcastle can throw on the table.
Uate clearly enjoys the Novocastrian lifestyle and knows there are worse places to raise a young family.
No less appealing would be the prospect of winning a premiership with his long-term teammates, some of whom he has been playing alongside for almost a decade.
Then there is the challenge of rewriting the rugby league record books.
If Uate stays with Newcastle, there is little doubt he will finish his career as not just the club’s leading individual try scorer but one of the most prolific in the game’s history.
At his scoring strike rate of 0.77 per game – three tries in every four appearances – by his early 30s he could even be challenging Ken Irvine’s all-time best tally of 212.
Uate has the potential to establish himself as one of the greats. All he needs is longevity.
But first and foremost it is up to Newcastle to offer him a deal that, even if it falls shy of the fortunes available abroad, at the very least rewards him generously.
Knights officials have traditionally been loath to enter into bidding wars to retain wingers.
Darren Albert, Tahu, Anthony Quinn and Vuna were all thanked for their services and released when they attracted superior offers elsewhere.
Uate would appear to have more bargaining power than any of the aforementioned.
The Knights will not break the bank, but Uate seems one player capable of challenging the likes of Kurt Gidley and Darius Boyd for top-dollar status.